God, I hate cat hair.
It lands on every fabric surface in my home and clings there, multiplying into layers, waiting for an unsuspecting victim to walk by, thereby providing a means of transportation to another surface.
This morning, I snatched the king-size quilted comforter off the bed, determined to get rid of the ever-present cat hair if not the two cats responsible for it. The comforter is too big for my washing machine. I’d have to take it to the laundromat. I decided to take the comforter that has been balled up in the laundry room for months, too, to make spending $4.25 to use the commercial machine worthwhile.
I shoved the offending comforters into the car and drove to the nearest washateria. I live in a part of town that, at one time, was home to baby boomers who kept their 70’s construction homes clean and their yards manicured. The shops and businesses nearby served sensible suburbanites. Nothing flashy. Over the years, the baby boomers upgraded, moving out to Sugarland or Pearland. The demographic shifted. First and second generation immigrants moved in. Corner stores, auto repair shops, cash advance stores, pawn shops, beauty supply stores swooped in to serve them. Then came the Hindu and Jewish temples, Turkish mosques and Baptist and Catholic churches. It’s called the international district now, a feeble attempt to gloss over the effects of socio-economic segregation.
The laundromat sits at the far end of a shopping strip, neighbored by a driving school, a taqueria/ grocery store, and an African restaurant. I pulled up and wrestled the two comforters out of the car and inside. As always, I surveyed the occupants. An African lady and her 4 daughters, doing pay-per-pound wash and fold, surrounded by carts of laundry and piles of folded clothes. Her daughters huddled around a lap-top, talking quietly. Across the room, a middle-aged black man leaning against the folding table, watching Let’s Make A Deal. A Hispanic woman and her children loading several of the smaller machines. A few other people. Nobody seemed particularly happy to be there.
I loaded and set the washing machine, and then wandered over to the taqueria to get lunch. On my way back in, I passed a man, smoking outside, his long-sleeved jersey on backwards. Did he do that on purpose? Surely he knows it’s backwards. Well, it’s none of my business, I thought.
He looked up, flicking his cigarette to the ground. “Good afternoon.” I smiled and nodded. He opened the door for me, and I went past, breathing in the smell of stale smoke. I do that sometimes. Smell people when they walk by. It’s risky, I know. But I can’t help it. I imagine that if I were blind, it would be all I’d have. That, and the ability to measure objects by reflected sound. So I practice, because, well… you never know.
It was while I was pushing my wet comforters into the dryer that I registered what was going on. At the back of the laundromat, a fuller-sized woman, her blonde ponytail jerking back and forth like a tail on an agitated cat, had begun yelling at backwards jersey guy.
“Leave us alone, Alex! You ain’t taking the car nowhere!”
His response was too low to hear, but it did nothing to calm her. Her voice took on the tone of a woman fed up. Full scale I-don’t-give-a-shit.
“I’m tired of yo shit, Alex. You always doin’ this. I’m done. DONE!”
She had 3 children, all under the age of 5. They appeared to be his. The oldest one, a curly-headed boy, reached for the trash bag full of laundry that his father was attempting to pick up. Backwards jersey guy’s efforts seemed a pathetic denial of whatever had made his woman so angry. The woman continued snatching clothes from the dryer and stuffing them into trash bags.
“Stop it, Alex! Leave us alone. I’m through wit’ yo sorry ass!”
Two of the 3 children were crying. The middle one looked on, his expression registered a kind of resignation reserved for much, much older people.
I wondered what Alex had done, or hadn’t done. The scene seemed familiar. A white woman and a black man tangled in a dysfunctional relationship, a relationship so toxic that it poisons everything around them. What about the children?
Everyone in the washateria actively ignored the couple. All aware of what was happening and equally aware that there was nothing they could do. Unspoken social norms require that we pretend we don’t see anything unless someone is being physically hurt. I turned my attention to the TV mounted overhead. Wayne Brady offered a contestant dressed as a clown whatever was behind door #2.
We have a choice. We don’t have to just take whatever is behind door #2. But blonde woman yelling in the laundromat had, and Alex was clearly a zonk.
I remember another life. Almost fifteen years ago. Me, clinging to a relationship with a man caught up in a similar drama. His baby mama constantly threatening, fuming, reeling him back in. I caught them once. They were holed up together in the apartment that I’d helped him get, lying on the sheets I’d bought. Like the laundromat woman, I’d started yelling at him. I snatched the sheets off the bed, grabbed a pair of shoes I’d bought him, took the broom and dustpan. I dumped the souring contents of the wastebasket I’d bought into his bathtub. (<–See what I did there? Good one, huh.)
I made his homeboy, Bang, carry my microwave downstairs to my car.
I was through with him.
I kept going back, because I thought I could fix it. Fix him. But men like my ex and Alex are not really the problem. They are the evidence.
Like cat hair.
If you want to get rid of the cat hair, you have to get rid of the cat. What is her cat?
I don’t know. Maybe it’s the belief that having an insecure, shell of a man was better than having no man at all. Maybe it’s an insecurity of her own. But I’m just speculating. It could be anything.
For me, it had been a misguided understanding of what love is. I believed that I had to be a martyr to love. That others, especially my man, would appreciate my martyrdom. It was the idea that attention, infatuation, would one day turn into love if you just work hard enough at it, if you make yourself what he wants.
I was ignorant. I didn’t know then that the only way to find the love you need is to focus on living in your purpose. Hint: your purpose is not in another person.
“You have a choice,” I wanted to tell the woman.
“Get rid of the cat. Free yourself.”